India: Maggi Controversy vs Midday meal poisoning
Death of children due to midday meal poisoning in rural backwaters of India has been reported several times, while no case of death has yet been reported in connection with immoderate quantity of lead in Maggi in the country. But, the Government is more concerned about the seemingly possible health hazards of lead content in Maggi noodles than the repetitive midday tragedy. Evidently, it is one of the usual ironies in India.
Midday meal poisoning vs Maggi ban is one of the great ironies in India.
Needless to say, India’s midday meal scheme is the world’s biggest free lunch program for poor school goers. It provides 120 million children with free lunch meals at schools across rural India so that those children from poverty-laden families can attend schools and become literate citizens without worrying about food, a most basic need of humble existence. Besides, prevention of their suffering from malnutrition is another great purpose of the midday meal scheme.
Unfortunately, such a noble program for the welfare of rural children in terms of literacy and health has been proven to be a failure since the first case of death and illness due to midday meal poisoning at a primary school in Dharmashati Gandaman village, Bihar, on 16th July in 2013. Death of 23 children in the age group of 4-10 years was reported, and dozens fell seriously ill in this shocking incident.
In 2014, illness of 54 children for the same wrong reason at a different school in Bihar deepened the trauma, which still persists because of repetition of the incident in 2015. When Maggi controversy was in full swing across India, consumption of midday meals made 60 children fall ill at Mathia Middle School in Bhojpur and caused uneasiness to about 12 children at Musahar School in Muzaffarpur, Bihar, on 24th June.
When Maggi controversy was in full swing across India, two incidents of midday meal poisoning simultaneously took place in Bihar.
Not only Bihar but also Odisha has met with such grim consequences of midday meal poisoning or low-quality midday meals cooked and served in rural schools. In February 2015, 40 students of Udayabata Upper Primary School at a village in Odisha, fell prey to such health hazards as vomiting, nausea and loose motion. Moreover, midday meals have been found containing worms, rats, frogs, cockroaches and lizards several times.
In most cases of the midday meal mishap, poor infrastructure and lack of hygiene in those schools are cited as possible reasons. If forensic reports of the meals served to the ill-fated children are to be believed, use of low-quality ingredients in cooking midday meals is the main reason. Often, the contractors who supply cooking ingredients to the schools are found involved in the midday meal corruption.
If forensic reports of the meals served to the ill-fated children are to be believed, use of low-quality ingredients in cooking midday meals is the main reason of deaths and illnesses.
Despite the long-running investigation, midday meal poisoning has been claiming young lives for years. Repetition of the incident year after year points at improper efforts by the Government to root out the primary cause. In contrast, the Government took only two months to ban sales of Maggi Noodles across urban India. The speedy process of checking product quality and the rapid action to drive away Maggi Noodles from grocery stores as well as households are commendable measures to save urban children from heath risks of monosodium glutamate (MSG).
The Government took only two months to ban sales of Maggi Noodles across urban India, while midday meal poisoning has been claiming young lives for years.
The case of Maggi Controversy and that of Midday meal poisoning are unequally handled. The level of investigative proceedings in both the cases is not same. Different treatments of the cases bear out to the existing gulf between urban India and rural India. It seems that health concerns of urban children matter more than those of rural children to the Government.
The case of Maggi Controversy and that of Midday meal poisoning are unequally handled.
Yes, Maggi has been a favorite of urban children as well as a choice of working mothers in Indian cities and towns. It is evident from Nestle India’s initial promotional campaigns targeting the changing profile of middleclass women and post-Independence liberalism in metropolitan India to inject Maggi Noodles into the social nerves. Since 1983 Nestle India had been enjoying the trust of urban and semi-urban working mothers on its promise of 2-minute convenience in their fast-paced daily lives.
In 2000s, Maggi was repositioned towards school-going urban kids through promotional sales using fun books, color pencils, sketch pens, etc. which have been a luxury to a majority of the young population in rural India till date.
Since the countrywide Maggi ban in July, urban India has been surviving without the 2-minute convenience though many of us miss Maggi noodles at times. But midday meal is a need of 120 millions of poor children in rural areas for the making of a better India. Despite this fact, no proper efforts have been made to improve the quality of midday meals, find out better alternatives to the midday meal scheme, and eradicate all possible causes of midday meal poisoning.